It feels like we are in a collective hangover right now as we unlearn toxic ways of viewing difficult emotions, life experiences, and just being human.
And the commitment to understand those unpleasant feelings or aspects of ourselves isn’t any less daunting. It’s hard work to discover why we can’t set and maintain boundaries or deepen the courage to speak up when the stakes are high.
But our capacity for discomfort creates our capacity to lead with courage.
Our ability to work with our emotions helps us achieve the changes we desire inside us and around us.
Working with our emotions–doing inner work– involves an intention to better understand why we do and feel and respond the way we do.
When we do inner work, we take responsibility for our own needs, our pain, our difficult life experiences. We listen to our discomfort and get curious about what we need instead of exiling the parts of us that need our support.
Sure, this kind of awareness without action fosters more individualism. But when we deepen our awareness of what happens internally, it can also deepen our impact in the world around us.
And when we lead with more courage, compassion, and confidence, that has a much needed ripple effect outside of us.
My guest today lives this practice in a deeply human and accessible way that encourages and inspires.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer is a content editor at Magnolia. Previously, she worked as the Online Managing Editor for DARLING, as well as a freelance writer in food and travel.
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Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: I knew deep down, like, nobody else can hear this, but I hear that this isn’t for me, and it is the better decision to not go, and having to trust that (that instinct, that inner voice) was really all I had in that moment. That's what gave me that sense of this is more important to listen to than that external chatter.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: I explore my own inner world in a regular basis. Now, that's not always been the case, but now, I carefully examine beliefs, feelings, and actions and get curious about where they’ve come from. I linger on what challenges me until I can feel their texture, their form, their viscosity. I take my time because this process is not efficient. Often, it's not even pleasant, but I dig deep into the process (or at least I try) because that's the work of leading myself and others well. A lot of intention to feel hard things is needed to understand all that contributes to how we respond to ourselves and others as we move through the spaces where we live and lead.
I know, who wants to feel fear or shame or humiliation? I get it, and the resistance to going back to challenging times in our lives is definitely understandable. In addition to the sheer discomfort we often feel turning inward, much of what is taught in personal and professional development spaces fuels the dangerous belief if we feel something negative, we're manifesting it more or just self-sabotaging. Yet, when we protect ourselves from moving through these emotions and understanding what they're connected to, they end up running our lives, our relationships, and even how we work, and yet, when I befriend my difficult emotions, I lead courageously instead of letting my difficult emotions lead me.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work.
Our goal is to learn how they’ve addressed these burdens, how they rise from them, again and again, and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
I absorbed the message that my goal was to power over difficult emotions, to shut them down at all costs. I was told to leave it in the past and when fear showed up, I'm supposed to fake it 'til I make it, right? Shame, I was told just to hustle and people-please or overdeliver in all I do so I don’t disappoint people. Oh, gosh, and when doubt comes up, I felt as if I was supposed to act as if I knew it all and never ask for help. Yowza. I am grateful there are shifts in how we approach our inner world, but I feel like we're in a collective hangover right now as we unlearn these toxic ways of viewing emotions, difficult life experiences, and just being human. The commitment to understand unpleasant feelings or aspects of ourselves is not any less daunting. It's hard work to discover why we can't set and maintain boundaries or deepen the courage to speak up when the stakes are high. Our capacity for discomfort creates our capacity to lead with courage, but simply put, feeling, often, feels dangerous, and we put a lot of effort into shutting down our discomfort. Our ability to work with our emotions helps us lead through our emotions, yet, this is the exact space where we achieve the changes we desire inside us and around us.
I know I talk a lot about inner work and its importance, but what the heck does that really mean? I sense you get what inner work means, but to articulate it? Well, that took a moment to put words to the practice of inner work, and without clarity on what inner work involves can lead to a lot of confusion, and if we can't articulate this important work, how can we know what the heck we're doing when we're doing it and doing it in a way that really supports us and those around us?
Inner work involves an intention to better understand why we do and feel and respond the way we do, and when we develop a regular practice of reflecting on why we do and what we do, it turns into a way of being and a way of leading when urges and emotions and judgments come up.
I believe inner work involves the practice of understanding our story, our unique nervous system, and having a relationship with our beliefs, feelings, and physical sensations in a way that I can work with what comes up for me instead of trying to exile my discomfort. When we do inner work, we end up taking responsibility for our own needs, our wounds, our experiences. We listen to our discomfort and get curious about what we need instead of trying to distance those parts of us that need our support. Sure, this kind of awareness without action fosters more individualism, but when we deepen our awareness of what happens internally, it can also deepen our impact in the world around us, and when we lead with more courage, compassion, and confidence, that has a much-needed ripple effect outside of us.
Now, my Unburdened Leader guest today lives this practice in a deeply human and accessible way that encourages and also inspires. Formally, the online managing editor for Darling, she, then, shifted into freelance food and travel writing while working with different brands on editorial and copy content. Ziza Bauer is currently the content editor at Magnolia. Yes, the Joanna and Chip Gaines’ Magnolia.
Pay attention to how Ziza navigated the opinions of others and how these external opinions conflicted with her own intuition when making a big career decision, listen to how she views social media and discerns what to share and when to share, and notice her connection between the inner work we do as leaders and content creators and how to grow our capacity for courageous decisions no matter what is coming at us. Now, please welcome Ziza Bauer to The Unburdened Leader podcast.
Ziza, welcome to The Unburdened Leader podcast. So glad you're here.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Thank you! I'm glad to be here.
Rebecca Ching: There's a lot that I want to dig into today, but I want to start off with just a little bit of your background. You’ve been a writer, you’ve been a content creator, an editor, a brand consultant. You’ve been in that space for several years now, but you started off in your academic studies, not in writing, but studying premed. So I'd love for you to tell me what was going through your head the day you decided not to go to medical school 'cause you'd gotten into UCLA and then decided to go on a different path.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, so the day -- man, I wish it was just a day of -- a decision, you know, that I made in a day. So I was doing cardiology research at UCLA, but I was actually gonna go to med school in Cincinnati, so back in Ohio.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, so that was also part of weighing that decision of knowing I was gonna have to leave and move back to Ohio -- definitely a big decision. Something that, if I'm honest with myself, had been a decision I was wrestling with and had probably made in my gut months, years before but just hadn’t really let myself sit deeply with what I was stepping into until it was time to actually step into it, and I had to really face that decision and walk through it.
And so, with medicine, I think for a long time that had felt like the right thing to do.
That had felt like when I was, you know, in my teens and early 20s, trying to picture who I was gonna be and the life I was gonna have and how, really, I wanted other people to see me and praise me and celebrate me as well, medicine was an easy yes. It was the thing that -- "Oh, that's respectable. That has purpose. That has job security. That can make a lot of money." It was all these boxes that, seemingly, checked for me, even though before that, even before high school as a kid, what came naturally to me, what lit me up, what brought me joy wasn’t being a doctor, it was writing, dancing, acting, writing movies and filming them. There are pictures of me, before I could even read or write, scribbling in notebooks. That was just who I was as a kid, and yet, going into college, I just felt like, well, that's just a different part of me. That's not the part of me that has to be professional and has to be an adult. That's just, you know, a hobby.
And so, when I finally was presented with medical school as a reality, it was also very interesting that I, of all places in the world, found myself living in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, in a city that is surrounded by people chasing their passions and just putting it all on the line and giving it their all and going after what had always lit them up (being an actor, being a director, making movies, artists). For me, I think I really had that sense that I don’t know if medicine is that passion for me, and I know I work hard, I know someday if I decide (in my 50s or 60s) I really want to go to med school, I can get in again. I did it once. I can do it again, but I won't always be in my 20s. I won't always have this opportunity to see what else I could have done, and not wanting to face the regret of, "Oh, what if? What if I had done something else," that is what eventually prompted me to decide yeah, I'm gonna let the admission go and see what else can come up.
Rebecca Ching: So what were you worried would happen if you made the wrong choice about medical school? What were the stakes for you around that?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: I think, more than anything, what was probably the biggest motivator at the time -- or fear at the time is what are other people gonna think of me. Medicine had always represented this bigger picture of the way people would look at me, the way people would respect me, the way I could sort of contrive this idea of who I was externally. To give that up, then, I suddenly saw it also from that external perspective of, like, "Oh, wow, is she dumb? Why did she give that up? Like, who would give up that career? Did she -- oh, maybe she was lying about ever even getting accepted." I just sort of let all these thoughts flood my head of, like, what are other people thinking? Having to deal with even the other people in my lab. I was working for a chief of cardiology and all these very respectable physicians and researchers, and they had known I was applying to med school, I had gotten into med school. They had written me recommendations, and having to navigate that feeling of letting them down, of letting myself down, just to worry that I was gonna end up always regretting this decision because I didn’t have anything else to offer. This was my one shot at success, and I had given it up.
Rebecca Ching: You know, I've got this picture of you that you painted as a kid doing a lot of this creative writing and play-acting and these different things that you mentioned, and then separating from that saying, "Oh, no. This is what I'm supposed to do." Again, that was fueled by this external sense of validation or this is what I'm supposed to do and what others think I'm supposed to do, and then even coming up to this decision of you being true to you. It sounds like just the idea of going to medical school -- what was that feeling like right before you wrote that email?
What was going on with you emotionally and physically? 'Cause I know, for me, when I'm in a place where I'm on a path that is not resonating, it starts to affect me even physically. My body starts to just, not shut down, but get really uncomfortable.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, I think there is that inner gut instinct, that inner voice, that inner knowing that I think I've always had and I've always been sensitive too, and yet, like many things in life, were just told not to get into it, not to listen to it, or to ignore it or to tamper it down.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: For me, it had been that rising feeling of this won't make sense to anybody else, but I just know I'm not supposed to go. I just know there's something else I could be doing, something else that would bring me more joy, that I would be better at, that lights me up, and even if, you know, like I was saying, knowing that everyone could look at that decision and make their own judgments about why I wasn’t going anymore, I knew deep down nobody else can hear this, but I hear that this isn’t for me, and it is the better decision to not go, and having to trust that gut instinct, that inner voice was really all I had in that moment. That's what gave me that sense of this is more important to listen to than that external chatter.
Rebecca Ching: That self-trust is a real growing-up moment, isn’t it -- a coming into your own moment.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Definitely. Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So how did those around you end up responding to your decision? How did they respond when you were like -- the folks you worked with in the lab and your family and your friends?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: My family -- so my parents are both artists. They're very bohemian. It always kind of felt like a bit of an outlier that I was gonna go to med school, so when I told them I wasn’t going, they were both just like, "Well, whatever makes you happy." [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: They were very, very okay with it, and enough of the people in my life who were really close to me had always sort of seen me weighing this decision, and really, nobody else -- like my college best friends, my friends at the time -- nobody else was in a super scientifically-driven career to where I didn’t feel like I was working out this decision with peers or colleagues kind of in the same vein. It was a lot of artists. It was a lot of already artistically inclined people who were working in the entertainment industry or elsewhere. They all kind of affirmed, "Yeah, if it doesn’t feel right, go with what feels right." But with the lab, specifically, it was hard. It was a weird moment which is why I knew I couldn’t stay working in the lab much longer once I decided not to go because it's kind of like, well, are you just gonna stay this assistant researcher technician forever? There's such a hierarchy in academics and medicine. If you're not going for the top, what are you doing? That's kind of the vibe.
So yeah, it was uncomfortable for a while, but I had to just settle in it and sit in it, and a lot of the people who I did work with, at the same time, they weren’t outwardly disparaging. They were all encouraging, and even my boss, the Chief of Cardiology, he was writing a book in his spare time. So it's interesting that he also had these inclinations of other things that he enjoyed and wanted to pursue.
Rebecca Ching: How did the season of studying biology and anatomy inform your work today as a writer and an editor?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, it definitely does. The thing I do love about biology -- not to say none of it was ever attractive to me. I love science and I love biology because there's such a story, essentially, behind all the parts and pieces of how the world and our bodies fit together. There's a reason behind why everything works the way that it does, and I think coming into writing and editing, I'm bringing that lens of, okay, well, what's the point of this? How is this connecting to this and this.
There's always a bigger picture. There's always a reason these things are doing and responding and shifting and playing off each other. With writing, I bring that same curiosity of figuring out okay, well, what is this saying? How is this communicating something, and where is the missing piece, here? Where do I have to research a bit more before writing about this or, when pulling a story together, who else -- what are my sources? Who else do I need to kind of talk to and get more of a research background, bringing that to the story, but I think, really, the interconnectedness of seeing how things play off each other is largely from that biological background.
Rebecca Ching: Wow, I guess I keep going back to, too -- and I just feel like so many people can relate to this. You were raised by artists. It sounds like your peer group was in the creative space. Obviously, in the LA, Hollywood genre, the whole space of just fashion, writing, acting. That was your social community, and then you were in this lab for years, and, like, I'm going to med school, and this path of just -- where so many of us get on this path of "this is what I should do," and we separate from our truth. Then, we have to come home to it, you know? Some people don’t, and my generous assumption is there might have been some people in that lab that were probably, whether they acknowledged it or not, a little envious. They were probably going, like, "Good for you." [Laughs]
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Sure.
Rebecca Ching: You know, 'cause it's a brutal journey. As much as I have such a respect -- I've got doctors in my family -- I have such a respect for that space, that whole journey, [Laughs] it really is separating the humanity out of you so that you can be a precision --
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: -- whatever it is you do. So it's an interesting point that so many people relate to of, like, separating from truth, 'cause that can't be right, that can't be good enough, that can't be secure. Whatever the story is, we always have to come home to our truth.
So I'm glad. Thanks for talking about that. I want to shift a little bit to your writing. You've written about beauty and culture and food. We've talked a lot about the food. [Laughs]
One thing, as I've followed your career, is you do all these things and write, but you're not in the spotlight. There's been a real intentionality, it seems, of not centering yourself. Even on social media you're so private and very intentional with what you share, and I've always been intrigued by that because it hasn’t been something you've tied your success (professionally) or your identity to, and there's a restraint that I don’t see a lot of folks have these days, and so, can you tell me what's going through your mind when you're considering what to share publicly and what you choose to share in your writing around social media and what you choose to keep private? What's your process with that?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: It's probably several things. I think the honest answer, also, is I can be a little shy and reserved just in general. It takes a lot for me to open up, and I think seeing social media go from its infancy -- you know, I remember when it had just come to universities, and it was at my college, and I got on it and Facebook was this weird thing, and I showed it to a couple girlfriends, and they were like, "What? You just look up people? This is weird. This is creepy." I'm like yeah, “You're right. This is creepy. I'm gonna get off.” Then, a couple years later, everyone was on it, and then fast-forward, you know, 10, 15 years later, the whole world is on it, and it's just become what it is.
And so, I think having that memory of this was creepy -- you know, at the beginning it was this weird, unknown thing, but yet, it's always been a tool.
It hasn’t been the goal in and of itself, and I think I've just always had a very clean line for me that I remember life before social media. You know, I'm not that old, but, increasingly, that's a rarity to find someone that remembers that.
Rebecca Ching: Totally.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Getting to a place where I don’t want to completely malign it and say, "It's not good for anything, it's terrible," because it is. Social media is a good thing for businesses. It's great for connecting and staying in touch with people. As a freelance person it's kind of invaluable but, for myself, I've always wanted to keep it in that light of this is a tool, this isn’t the goal. When I'm using it for myself, when I'm thinking about, well, what do I want to share on this thing, how do I want to connect with people, I want to be adding something to a space, and, really, I want to feel like even if this only resonates with one other person, there's a point to me sharing what I'm sharing.
And so, everyone sort of uses it for different things (for sharing the vacation photos, for sharing the kid photos, for curating this image to have a brand and have a business, but for myself, as I've really tapped into what feels right and authentic for me, and then thinking about my writing and where I can connect with people in writing, I really try and keep what I share something that, at the end of the day, I'm putting out because I feel like this is helping, this is adding to this space, this, maybe, is a thought to think about that someone else, if they engage with my content, they'll leave feeling better or lighter or not even necessarily lighter in a happier sense, but just less alone or more opened up to, maybe, mystery or wonder. There's so much on social media now that can feel divisive and frustrating. That's the tip of the iceberg, but, for me, I just feel like when I get a thought or something to share, it really does tap into more of my intuitive side when it comes to writing, and sometimes I'll just have a thought.
Truthfully, I don’t even know where it comes from sometimes, but it'll just be this intense feeling of I just need to share this, and I just need to kind of let this flow and write or put these certain things together and share it. Even if it's, you know, one person or ten people that are like, "Wow, I really needed to read that today," or, "Thanks for sharing," that, to me, is the best part of social media, that it fosters those little momentary connections of you're not alone, there's more than meets the eye, and we're okay. [Laughs]
So that's sort of what I filter through when I'm sharing, and then, you know, from a more personal side, I've just always been very cautious, and now, being a mom and having a child, too, I'm just very sensitive to -- we just don’t know, truthfully -- with such an emerging field of social media, we don’t know who's datamining, who is using this information, and so, with my child now, in particular, I just can't help but see him as his own individual, and while he's in my care and I'm responsible for raising him, I also want to respect his individuality. So that's just been my personal filter of I don’t want to share his face. I don’t want to share a ton about him. I can connect with myself as a mom and how I'm feeling, personally, but when it comes to sharing about him, that's just something, for me, I feel just doesn’t sit right in that regard. So everyone has their own boundary lines of what feels right for them and what they want to share but, for me, it's to use social media as a tool, to make sure I'm using it in a way that feels hopeful and engaging for myself, personally.
Rebecca Ching: This is, I think, a really big permission slip for a lot of people. A lot of people I know, a lot of people I work with feel like, "Oh, I need to be doing more on social media, and I need to --," I'm like, "No," you know? [Laughs]
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Obviously, you have a real clarity of intention. It's not a place where it's connected to your business. Some people use it for their business, and they’ve done well, but that's not the norm, and it's taken a toll. I'm seeing more and more people saying, "I'm going offline. I'm hanging out in this space, this Patreon newsletter." This has become more and more I feel better when I'm off, and so, your intention's a big deal. What are some other boundaries that you have around social media and what, maybe, still threatens you honoring those boundaries around social media?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, I know, I totally agree. I think I've learned to feel out what feels right in my body, and it's still a process of, you know, like you said before that, coming home to yourself. For me, it’s a lot of self-discovery, a lot of inner workings. I love that sense of self-discovery. You know, I'm an introvert at heart, so give me a cave and a candle and a book and a journal, and I'm fine, but that process of self-discovery and really feeling out and giving myself the freedom to say, "Yeah, that doesn’t feel right for me," or, "I don’t know if I align with that or if I agree with that," and feeling that renewed sense of self. I see how tricky social media can then become when you're excavating yourself, your soul in the world, just trying to become a human being, that social media makes it really easy to put that all in grids and on stories and in filters, and, suddenly, you don’t really have to do that deep work as much, but you can make it look like you are, and I've really felt convicted and have wrestled with that in my own heart so I'm not saying anything that I haven't first gone through of, well, how do I craft this image of myself. You know, it kind of comes back to that original medical pursuit for me of how do I craft this external vision and live up to that versus living from an inner authentic place and not really caring how other people interact with that.
So, for myself, knowing that if I'm feeling just down or if I'm feeling off, I recognize very easily how social media is a go-to to check out or to escape or to, you know, not really tap in with how I'm actually feeling, but just to kind of, "Oh, let me see how someone else is living life." And so, for myself, I try to be very mindful of, again, this is a tool, this is something that I want to use kind of almost like a work device. So during the weekday I feel a bit more freedom to, like, jump on and jump off, but also during the workday I'm working so it's kind of a safeguard of I just don’t have as much time to be on my phone in general, and then on the weekends to be completely off social media as if it was, you know, a break from my job, a break from work to kind of get back in that rhythm of I don’t have to be on this thing all the time and making sure I'm making space for myself, too, outside of the chatter, outside of the noise, outside of the newsfeeds. Not getting so far from how I am feeling and what I think and what's happening in my brain and in my heart so that when I do, then, dive back into social media, I feel like I'm able to weigh, "Okay, this is new information or this has triggered me in certain ways. Well, why is this triggering me," and then using it almost as a different kind of tool for more self-reflection.
So I try and keep those boundaries so that I'm never so distanced from myself and how I'm feeling or what I'm seeking -- what validation I'm seeking in myself so that social media just consumes all of that.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it sounds like that intention in yourself, like your awareness -- and when you lose that sense of awareness and it just all kind of blurs together is when it can get murky.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: I'm curious, too -- I mean, you're in this space with your jobs, and I think, like you mention, there's some good to it, and I do agree, it just has to be so intentional. How do you feel about social media as a tool for change and meaningful impact for, not just individuals, but also for brands?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, I do think it's a valuable, valuable tool. I think in an era, kind of at the time through the pandemic, through culture, it's really easy to silo yourself and so, social media can be a negative tool for that if you're only engaging with things, only following the followers with the referred content, and, "Oh, if you'd like this, then you'd like this," and you can go down a rabbit hole and isolate yourself, but, again, if you want to use it as that excavating tool, as a mirror to help you grow, I do think social media can be very powerful to hear from people your life would never automatically bump up against and you wouldn’t naturally hear from. And so, I think when you bring that genuine, humble sense of, "Wow, I had no idea that this was someone else's experience" or, "Wow, this person just shared in a way that was very vulnerable and real," I need to sit with that and hear that and let that change me. I think, again, it's that mentality you bring to it. If you are looking to just be defensive and to state your viewpoint and to make sure people know that you're right, it's probably not gonna be the best dynamic for you, but if you are genuinely coming to the platform and being like, "Wow, that's uncomfortable for me. I feel called out listening to that, but I'm gonna sit with it and let myself be called out and let myself listen," and notice why do I feel like I need to resist this or why am I getting angry that this person is angry? So I've used it, personally, as a tool, and I found it very helpful in just personal growth and hearing from other people.
With brands, I do think there's an element where -- to use "brand" in air quotes -- it's such a tricky thing nowadays when a brand is trying to be a human being and have a personality and have a point of view.
It's just so tricky, and I really feel for entrepreneurs and business leaders in general trying to navigate that. I don’t think there's any one way to do that right. It can seem like social media just becomes this tool to have your activist wing, and you're able to appease all these different groups just by saying certain things without really saying what you as a brand stand for. And so, in that, I think, again, just trying to be authentic and honest and engage and learn and grow and show the journey along the way, show that process of learning and shifting and changing, I think that's really important.
Rebecca Ching: There's a lot there. When you were talking about, like, if you just use social media to kind of reinforce your rightness, and I'm like yeah, there's a part of me that's like, "I'm gonna find more people who --," 'cause I'm like, I am right, but it can also be a place where you can spin out too --
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: -- and go down rabbit holes trying to figure things out if you just use social media for that space. I love the accessibility that it's offered for a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to be heard and have folks who have voices. I mean, that's been really exciting for me, but playing around with curating who you listen to and even just how you engage with them, how you see it as a I'm gonna check in, I'm gonna check out of it versus it's your default to work through things. When you talk about how brands as brands are trying to be humans and this social justice wing of it versus this is who we are -- I do see a lot of people calling BS to that.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I'm not seeing businesses and brands getting away with that like they used to.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: I mean, they still get away with it, but people are not as excited about it, and I do see it.
I see that even just in theories too and different places. Like, in terms of healing, for trauma, I've been doing this training with Resmaa Menakem, and he uses Somatic Abolitionist Theory, and he's trained in somatic experiencing, and he's like, you know, that's a great theory, but they saw the trauma and racism connection as an aside. No, it's center. It's center to trauma in everything. It's interconnected at center, and we can't have it be this side thing. So I think we often will do that, especially those of us in positions of privilege and dominant culture, here in the states at least, this aside thing, and it's gonna be a box to check versus this is who I am. A lot of people struggle with that, and a lot of businesses and brands struggle with that. So with that piece, how do you guide those that you're working with to say, "No, this isn’t just a box to check and a thing to do," versus how do we make this who we are? What's been your voice in the businesses and brands you work with around that?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, it's definitely a hard conversation. It's a tricky subject, and it's a both-and. At the same time, there's this tension of we want brands just as a culture, as a society -- even generationally this changes a bit -- but we want brands to kind of be our lamp posts, our beacons. I think we've replaced, maybe, church culture or other communities of different generations, and, now, brands and commercialism has become this place where we find ourselves and we find our freedom. And so, with that, I think that's why you're seeing this backlash of a lot of angst and frustration being directed at brands 'cause you don’t really know where else to put it. And so, working with businesses, I think having that healthy measure of, "Well, yes, we need to have integrity in the decisions we make," and then behind the scenes as people, it's almost like I hope brands are just sort of seen for what they are as brands.
That they are these places where we engage, we have a transaction and an exchange of goods, but they're not the heartbeat of our society, they're not what personally kind of dictates our identity quite in the same way.
And so, with that, I don’t know if this is just asking in general for society to kind of grow up or wake up a little bit more, but it's almost like seeing a brand and then realizing, okay, that's an object, but that's not dictating the worth that I have as an individual or as a community. And so, trying to do both the inner work as individuals, as human beings that run businesses that are parts of these brands, however we can best foster that realization of, okay, as a community, yes, call out brands that are doing obvious damage or harming the environment or people, groups or oppressing. You know, call out the greed, call out the lack of integrity in certain places, absolutely, but then, at the same time, how are we also making way for the individuals affected by that to also achieve their own growth?
So I don’t know if this is exactly answering your question. It's kind of still a nebulous thought in my mind. It's such a complex process, but I think both being true to that inner voice as an individual -- to know I'm not gonna give all of my identity and let it get wrapped up in this brand, whether that's as a consumer or as the person working as the brand.
[Inspirational Music Interlude]
Rebecca Ching: Leading is hard, and leading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, your boundaries.
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[End Inspirational Music Interlude]
I feel like the nuance, because what I took away from that -- so let me know if this is where you were going -- is we have this response to what's happening, right? Then we have to comment on it as a brand. This came up, too, with a lot of solopreneurs and small business owners that were like, "We need to say something, do something, how do we respond," right?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Right. Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: Then you're saying, okay, yes, that's a piece of it, but then what's our long-term investment in really moving forth change is what I heard.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: You know, helping, whether it's individuals, communities, populations, what are we doing? Not just saying, "We stand against this or stand for this," check --
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Right.
Rebecca Ching: -- versus what are we doing with our vices, with our resources, with our platform to, then, be a part of sustained change. Am I hearing that correctly?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, I think that's spot on. I think trying to have that awareness of we know that people will be angry and people will call out things, but also, sometimes, the person who's pointing the finger, they're dealing with their own hurt and their own trauma, and they have nowhere else to go so they feel like they have to lash out at the brand, and being able to receive that on whatever side you are and just holding more empathy and understanding for that angry voice as well as doing the humble work as well. Being like, "Ooh, yeah, you know what? We should take this feedback into consideration and really examine what's feeding our business and who we've been speaking to and if that needs to change."
Rebecca Ching: I think you said something really big there: examining who's feeding our business, and we can even think about that as individuals. Who's feeding my opinions? Who's feeding my feelings? [Laughs]
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs] Right.
Rebecca Ching: You know? Beyond food, but, you know, what's stirring up because -- and I just learned this. Politics and PR is my foundation, right? We aren’t moved to change when we feel comfortable, right?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: And so, we vote when we're afraid. We don’t vote when we're comfortable, and watching how campaigns will, then, do their ads and what they focus on and how they do stuff on the ground, the behind the scenes stuff (the grassroots stuff) just to stir things up, but, like, "Hey, feel good and vote for me."
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs] Right?
Rebecca Ching: You know, it doesn’t work that way, and so, you brought up this thing, too, about brands. Almost this place where -- a place of church or a place of worship, right?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm.
Rebecca Ching: And what are we worshiping?
I had a mentor say to me whatever I think about the most is what I'm worshiping, and is that what I want to be worshiping? It doesn’t even have to be something faith-based, but, like, that's what I'm giving adulation to and my time and the best of me to, and brands want that. Obviously, there's a lot of bottom line, but there is this interesting tension of can we do a toe in the water and be cool enough? Can we do this enough but still not go out of our comfort zone? I'm wondering have you sat with founders and directors and folks that are at the heart of businesses and brands and said, "Listen, this isn’t just an aside. How do we move this to who we are, and how do we want to communicate that?" Have you been in any conversations like that, and how have leaders responded to your direction in that area?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, that's a really good point. Again, I feel like I'm just constantly saying, "It's tricky, and that's hard, and it's a balance," because --
Rebecca Ching: Because it is.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: It's like we're using these businesses as our new tools of social change and social progress and individual progress and evolution, and so, I think in those moments where you're having, maybe, a cultural response or you're trying to think about how does this brand or how does this business cater or respond to this issue. At the same time, it's like but this is also a business, and so, at what point does the heart and the personal journey and the individual and that almost spiritual side takeover from the fact that, well, this is a business, and it's trying to make money, and it's trying to have a profit, and it's trying to be successful, and it's trying to XYZ. It's always a dance. I have yet to see a business that has perfectly integrated with its deep holistic interpersonal dynamics and it's super successful, making all this money, giving back.
I just don’t know if that exists. It's like the essential masculine-feminine energy, you know? There's always gonna be this dance back and forth between the both of it.
And so, I think for leaders and brands that I've worked with, it kind of comes back to, well, what feels authentic and with integrity in this moment, and also, what is our goal? Let's clearly define, well, what's the goal in this context? If we're trying to clearly raise revenue, let's sort of look at these other levers, and maybe we pull back on using manipulative tactics, not that I've ever worked with a company that is manipulative, but just saying. Like, how are we going about that in a way that maybe detaches a bit more from the personal to focus on the practical, and then vice versa. Like, if something happened (a product wasn’t selling or there was a ton of feedback on a certain post or an article), then maybe use that to be like, "Oh, well, wait, hold on. Maybe we're really out of touch with the personal side here and the heart we're bringing to this business." So it kind of is always going back and forth dependent on, well, what's the goal in this context, trying to be really clear about what are we trying to achieve, and sometimes that is very simply we need -- Q1 sales are down or we're trying to push this opportunity or this sale because, as a business, you have to make business decisions. You're not a nonprofit. You're not a community organization, per se. So if you're a business, you're trying to make money.
Rebecca Ching: And that's where it's complicated and complex. At what expense, right? I think about, too, a lot of leaders and business owners, especially around social media and responding to what's been going on, there have just been so many things happening in our world, really hard and really important things, and really troublesome things have been happening, and sometimes I see folks, like, I don’t want to say anything that will draw negative attention, and that sometimes has silenced them into kind of, like, I don’t know what to -- they couldn’t move forward or move back or they felt very boxed in because it was like, "I don’t want to do conflict," and I'm like, "What's wrong with that?"
Part of it was their own nervous system saying, "I don’t think I can handle this," and seeing sometimes how folks can be so vicious especially in the online space. It isn’t just like, "Hello, brand. Hello, human. I disagree with you. I'd like to give you my three points of what's different." It is dehumanizing. It is devaluing, and it can go to livelihood and also to safety issues. I've read story upon story about that. So there are a lot of folks that are like am I venturing into a space where I stand up for what I believe in or venture into a space and say, "Hey, we need to change what we represent and who we are, but we may not do it perfectly. I'm scared that if we don’t do it perfectly, we'll not only lose our revenue, but lose our safety."
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And so, I'm just curious what you’ve seen around that piece, around the fear of rocking the boat versus taking a stand on where the intersection with social media shows up.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, I think there has to be a hard line for a leader in that space to be able to separate themselves, to know that, okay, even if this business fails, I am not a failure. At the end of the day, who we are in the businesses we show up as, the jobs that we do, or whatever that job is, that is not representative, truly, of the worth we carry as individuals, and I think to the extend we want brands, again, to be those things we worship, to be those things that, then, reflect back to ourselves our worth, our safety. The extent that's gonna shift us off of our center is the extent that we haven’t gotten in touch with that ourselves.
And so, for a leader to enter into a conversation, to enter into the conflict and come out broken and confused and at a loss on the other side, that doesn’t also have to be the final word, and as individuals show up, as we all show up, and just sort of do -- this is why I'm such an advocate of just inner work and having your own sense of healthy authenticity and hearing that inner voice and doing that inner work on yourself, that is how we truly change culture and communities because then we can handle when people come at us with their own stuff and their own processes that they're working through.
Yeah, when the stakes are higher, they're absolutely higher if you're running a business if you are facing, maybe, public rejection or public crucifixion, but also to know that even if this were to happen, I still have my sense of self inside that nobody else can get to, and that's where I am.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, you're speaking my professional love language right now.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Because I do think we have to do that inner work to be able to weather the vulnerability of staying true to who we are and what we believe and not knowing how that's gonna be received. Again, when you're a business owner, the stakes are high. You’ve got employees, you’ve got folks you serve. It's a lot to think about, but it's amazing to not engage out of fear and then become complicit to that or just to play it safe, and it's a dance. It's such a dance with all of it. So thank you for walking around the nuance of this very complex issue.
I want to shift to talking about your experience at Darling magazine. You were a founding, core team member there, and I was a Kickstarter supporter of that and a writer for them. I love, love, love that brand and all that they're doing, and you were responsible, at the beginning, for all their online content. I know working at a startup, especially one that was challenging industry norms around magazine images and content (how they were shown) can be so exciting but also consuming. So after almost five years at the magazine, it went through -- you were there for almost five years -- it went through some big changes, and you, along with many of the other leaders, were let go. I wonder if you could share what was going through your head when that happened?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yeah, it was heartbreaking. It was really sad, you know? I think to have a job that you get to show up at every day and feel like oh, this aligns both personally and professionally, and everyone who I worked with, I loved. It was such a family and a team dynamic that was really wonderful, and so, yeah, when different business decisions were made and the editorial staff was let go, it was like there was an initial shock. It almost felt like a break-up or something like, whoa, suddenly this was here, and then it wasn’t. I think through that, and that's where I was also really able to learn phew, okay, I am not my job, [Laughs] and even though that job gave me great opportunities -- I connected with amazing people. I really loved what I was doing. Even that, as a business, needed to make business decisions. My heart really goes out to the leaders of the company who were also weighing with these really hard decisions, and because it's a business, it had to make these business decisions. I think I learned, okay, even if I no longer have this job, I'm still me, and I still have to work through this, but it was really hard. I did kind of face all of those questions of, well, how am I relevant now, and what am I doing now, what's next, where do I go from here because Darling was so wonderful, and I just loved my job. How could I, you know, show up in another job that I love just as much?
At the same time, it ended up being just a good -- well, I believe anything can always be good in the long run and be a growth opportunity even if it feels devastating and uncomfortable in the moment, which it definitely did. My husband and I had just moved back to LA. We didn’t know where we were gonna live. We didn’t know what our income streams were gonna be. It was a real question-mark moment, and then to also face just the loss of this job -- it was no one's fault -- it was no -- I wasn’t fired. It wasn’t this tense thing. It just really felt like loss and having to process that and go through that in the moment because these are people you see day in, day out, this is what you're doing day in, day out, and to suddenly, in that context, not do that anymore, it was a loss that I had to process.
Rebecca Ching: Looking back on that transition, from a job you truly loved, what did this experience teach you about yourself, and how did it inform your next steps in your career?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: I think that there's more to do, that I don’t really know all there is about myself and all the ways I can show up in the world even if I think I do, even if I think I have a really clear idea of what I'm about and what I can offer, I can always grow. There's always more. There's always something new to change and grow. As much as I loved writing and working or Darling, I think, if I'm honest with myself, it was, I don’t want to say easy, but it felt very effortless sometimes because I did believe so much in what Darling was doing, and writing in the voice and being able to edit, it just came very naturally and easy. And so, being able to challenge myself again and write for different outlets or step into different industries, different genres, I kind of missed that, and it was a good reminder of oh, right. It's good to be challenged. It's good to step into something and be unfamiliar with it and have to learn and grow. I think leaving Darling, and then unexpectedly -- I didn’t plan to be freelance for four and a half years. It just sort of happened, and realizing oh, wow, until you're in a new experience, you may not realize what a previous experience had given you, and the things that I'd learned being a part of Darling for as long as I was and in the industry and just the changing culture of the time, I didn’t realize how much I had learned and how much I had grown until I was in a new environment. Sometimes you don’t naturally put yourself in a new environment. Like you were saying (to go back to that) when you're comfortable, you don’t really need to change stuff. So until you're uncomfortable, you may not realize what you still have to offer and gain as well.
Rebecca Ching: Wow, I'm just sitting with that 'cause we're not gonna be like, "You know, I am just too comfortable in this job I love that just feels effortless, so I need to change," says nobody? [Laughs]
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I mean, maybe there are some folks out there, and so, that's powerful. I want to transition into where you're at today 'cause you recently uprooted your family. You just had a baby. You moved from Southern California to Texas for a new job with Magnolia.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I mean, Magnolia!
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I'm doing, like, hand gestures here. What was the trade-off you were weighing as you considered this offer?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, gosh. It's funny, we begin and end this conversation with big decisions 'cause this really felt like another one of those big decisions that I wish was clear cut and just made sense. When I talk about feeling into my gut, both things felt right. It felt right to stay in LA. It felt right to never leave California, but it also felt right to take this job, and the opportunity felt right, and it excited me. It kind of worked backwards from there where, initially, when I was presented with the opportunity and I read about the role, I was just like, ah, gee, this sounds great! This sounds exactly like what I do and what I love and what I'm good at, as well as seeing that growth edge of, oh, to be back full time again, to be in the inner workings of this huge company that has all these exciting outshoots of new growth in all these different directions, and being able to learn again. You know, being freelance, working for myself for four years, I’ve missed that personal, professional growth, that challenging, learning from other people who are experts in their field all the time, and so, I had been feeling like I do miss that, and I want to give myself that opportunity.
Both my husband and I, because we had just had the baby, too, we were in this new season of really reevaluating, okay, what is our long game, what is our long term?
And so, when this opportunity came up it was kind of like, ah, do we make this decision, maybe, sooner than we would have wanted to and deal with the sadness and the stress and all that goes into a big move or do we, again, stay with what's comfortable, but then, in a year or two years miss that opportunity because that's not what's before us right now. So we really looked at, well, what's before us right now, what are the long-term goals that we have in the future, and is what's before us right now gonna get us closer to that or take us away from that? And so, ultimately, we did make the decision. It worked out really well to be able to be in Austin, which is a great city, and commute to Waco once a week. The team that I work with is really wonderful and flexible and very accommodating, and also, my husband's job was able to transfer. So for the first time in our marriage, we both had these full-time jobs, and it just felt like it aligned so well that, despite the sadness of having to move and, you know, the unknown ground of Texas, we just decided to go for it.
Rebecca Ching: I'm curious. Now that you’ve been in this job for a little while, how do you bring your values into your work right now?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oof, well, I think it goes back to what I was saying of just being truly authentic to myself. I'm not trying to be cliché when I say that, but to really honor the fact that when I show up for myself, when I give myself space to process how I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, I don’t have to put that responsibility on anybody else, and I can really show up for other people as well. So as a leader, as someone who's mentoring other writers, other people on my team, and then also responding to people above me, it really helps to not take criticism negatively when you are doing the work on yourself and when you are able to sit with, okay, yeah, I'm an imperfect human being. I can't do all the things well, so as I process in my own way and kind of away from work, making sure I'm checking in with myself and how I'm feeling and thinking and growing as a person, then I'm able to show up and be that for other people and not be so sensitive or so reactive in environments so that we can always focus on what is the common goal that we're sharing as a work environment right now on this project, and then, also, just as a human being as well in developing relationships and friendships with people.
Rebecca Ching: I think it's powerful. Throughout our conversation, you've really brought in this piece of doing work externally and also internally. That seems to be a dance that you really live and do well, and checking in with what do I need to do personally, not just what skill I need to do or what task I need to execute, but who do I need to be and how do I work on that. I just really appreciate that a lot, and I feel like it's so hard to -- it just feels like that's a process you've had in your life for a long time, and I think a lot of people haven’t cultivated that 'cause they haven’t been taught to or told to. It's all about what you do, not who you are, and so, I really appreciate to see that woven into this conversation today.
I'm curious. What does success look like to you today, and how has it changed from what you originally thought? Bringing it back.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Mm-hmm, well, I definitely thought success in previous seasons of life was making X amount of money, being that successful doctor, being able to point to this is how I'm helping people, this is how I'm helping my bank account, this is how I'm making good on my college loans, and having a lot of these external barometers that I kind of thought no matter what, success should be something that anybody can look at your life and be like, "Oh, yeah, that's successful," as if success is this universal standard. If anything, now, maybe the simplest answer is I realize success is entirely individual, and there's no such thing as universal success.
It really comes down to how you, as an individual, are thriving and feel in touch with your true, authentic self. That's what I would say. So that's what I try and do for myself.
Rebecca Ching: So I have some quick-fire questions to wrap up our conversation.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Okay.
Rebecca Ching: Are you ready?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, what are you reading right now?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Ooh, well, with a baby, nothing entirely. I have about five different books I've started right now. I'm reading Joan Didion's first novel. I'm reading a book called Anam Cara, about Celtic mysticism. I’m always reading Mary Oliver's book of poems, Richard Rohr, Devotional. I'm reading a book about Eastern European food. So it always depends on the day and the page I have earmarked. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I think that was a beautiful kind of amuse-bouche of you. A little Didion, a little Eastern European.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: A little spirituality. I mean, it was like there we go.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, I'll take it.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] What song are you playing on repeat right now?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, I'm terrible with music. I don’t listen to songs; I listen to classical or different frequency tones 'cause I can't write or do stuff when I am listening to words, but Max Richter, who's a composer, he has his version of Vivaldi's Spring. It's this beautiful crescendoing symphony sounds, and it's lovely. It's based on Four Seasons: Spring, Vivaldi. I can send it to you. It's wonderful.
Rebecca Ching: Please do. Best TV show or movie you’ve seen recently?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, well, so this is actually where this song was part of the soundtrack. There's the HBO version of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend. We just finished the most recent season, and it's just lovely. It's Italy and Naples in the '70s, and it's great.
Rebecca Ching: The vibe. I feel the vibe. What is your favorite '80s movie or show or piece of pop culture?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Eighties -- one of my favorite movies of all time is When Harry Met Sally. I think that was, like, '88, '89. Just squeak it in there, but yeah, that's one of my favorites.
Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, probably, wait a minute. [Laughs] Wait a minute before you react. Also I just mentally need a minute 'cause I'm still not sleeping from the baby. So just wait a minute. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Wait a minute! [Laughs] What is an unpopular opinion you hold?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Ooh, I like this. Probably a lot of them, but I will say that I believe in alternate realities. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Gonna let that one air. I love it.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I love it. So did my 10th grade AP World History teacher, too.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, I know. He was fascinating. Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, my son. I have to say. My baby boy.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. There's nothing like the little people in our life that call us up and call us in.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: For sure.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: Ziza, thank you for your time today. Thank you for sharing a bit of your heart and your wisdom. I really, really appreciate it, and I know many people are gonna get a lot out of it, so thank you so much for joining me today.
Nicole “Ziza” Bauer: Oh, the pleasure is all mine. I really appreciate it. It was great to chat with you.
[Inspirational music interlude]
Rebecca Ching: I love this quote by Viola Davis. She says, "There's got to be a voice deep within you that's untouched by definitions, and it is there that you become divinely who you are."
Doing the work to discover our divine nature has become essential work these days.
This inner work can be dismissed or seen as self-indulgent, but when done with a goal to both heal while increasing your positive impact on the world around us becomes a powerful motivator, and a steady practice of inner work is a lifelong practice, not based on fixing, but built on relationship, respect, and curiosity. Ziza kept coming back to her own inner work practice, honoring her intuition, her values, even when others around her did not understand her choices. She continues to regularly check in and listen to her inner system, even when the stakes are high, so she can be aligned internally and with how she leads.
I'm curious. What makes up your inner-work practice, what gets in the way of you staying in curiosity in the face of fear and uncertainty, and how can you deepen your inner work and develop a life-long practice of checking within? If we learn to see discomfort as data and not what defines us, then our inner system will relax and trust us to lead without overwhelm, and this is the work of an unburdened leader.
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can sign up for the free Unburdened Leader weekly email, find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me www.rebeccaching.com.